Halifax has often been accused of hiding its light under a bushel, but you’ll only ever hear department store boss Tracy Harvey shouting its virtues from the rooftop.
When plans for the Piece Hall were in their early stages Tracy Harvey instinctively knew her store had to have a presence.
“Right from day one we were there showing interest. At that stage they were not signing anyone but I’m pleased to say when the time came we were invited to take space,” she says.
The move signalled a new departure for Harveys - one of Halifax’s oldest and best known retailers - one which was designed to help protect its unique status as an independent in a world where so many similar family businesses have ceased trading.
“We are Halifax through and through. We knew the Piece Hall would be important commercially and for the whole town’s future,” says Tracy who is married with a young son and who has been managing director of the Commercial Street store since 2004.
“I’ll be honest and say we wanted to be there so we could let people know we are in the town centre too.
“So far we have traded very strongly in the Piece Hall and it has benefited the main store,” she said.
Harveys Gifts and Home is two units on the first floor of the Piece Hall and is its first satellite shop.
“We could not have wished for a better start for us as a business and Halifax as a town. On the first day we could barely cope. We knew something special was happening.
“Some people have said ‘why open it when it’s only half full?’. No, it’s not full, but the quality of the businesses in there shows the potential there is. Everything is being run extremely well.
That place will be full in less than 12 months,” she says.
“We deserve this as a town and if we can’t make something of the second most important building in Yorkshire (according to English Heritage York Minster is the first), then that would be a poor show. Nobody else in the world has got a Piece Hall, only Halifax! We are on the cusp of something really big,” she said.
Tracy is the fourth generation of her family to run the business, taking over as MD from her father Roger.
Harveys began in 1926 in Dewsbury before expanding to Harrogate, Wakefield and in 1951, Halifax.
The untimely death at just 50 of Roger’s father Ian had far reaching effects.
The family was forced to let all the stores go except Halifax - which had the greatest potential for expansion - to pay his death duties. Roger, who was just 21, was thrust into the frontline to run the business with his mother.
Since then Harveys has taken over five other retail spaces to occupy the area it enjoys now. The store like the town has faced tough times, but its mantra of offering a good, personal service has seen it survive both the expansion of out of town malls and the internet shopping revolution.
The business has deliberately not got involved in online shopping prefering instead to offer a quality personal service and an enjoyable experience on the premises.
“We are not ignoring the internet or burying our heads in the sand, but this area is very expensive to compete in. We have a strong online presence and contact 16,000 people twice a week telling them what’s happening in store. And we have some plans to put a small number of products online and do some trials, but we will never become a full online retailer,” she says.
“Things have changed massively but the leisure side of shopping has become far more important to people like us - one to one service, the whole experience.
“We can never be the cheapest. You can go online and find any brand cheaper and bar a handful of things, we don’t have anything in this store that you can’t buy elsewhere.
“There are some people that do not like service, they like speed of service and do not want to interact. But there is still a customer that appreciates what we do and thank goodness for them.”
Harveys is currently expanding its portfolio of brands and Halifax will be seeing Barbour, Fjallraven outdoor clothing, Moda in Pelle women’s shoes and Neom Bath & Bodt range for the
“We want to be a home for real key brands that a lot of people previously would have had to travel to find. We are really proud of the relationships we are building with these brands that have head offices in London - brands that had never heard of Halifax before.
“My dad has lived and breathed this business. We are in very different times now and adapting to some of those changes has been difficult, but I have the best mentor I could possibly have. We have around 100 people work for the business, that’s 100 families to support. It’s a huge responsibility which I take very seriously. “
In her role, Tracy is well positioned to see the future possibilities for Halifax.
A town that has watched enviously as Leeds expanded to become a major national city, Huddersfield boomed on the back of its burgeoning university and Bradford had millions given to it to create one of the most attractive central spaces imaginable.
Now, she says, it our turn.
“In so many areas we punch above our weight. We have several world class companies. We are in the midst of a transport scheme which is costing £57 million that is going to make accessing Halifax all the more easy. And another road scheme the station gateway that will further enhance the part of town where people get on and off trains.
“Then there’s the investment into Square Chapel, the Minster, the Industrial Museum, the new Central Library and the Piece Hall, of course. Our heritage is second to none. Halifax is an interesting place to visit.
“Plus, of course, we are just a short ride away from Bronte Country, the Yorkshire Dales and The Lakes. Everything is coming together at a really crucial time. Things have been disjointed over the last decade but the pieces are fitting together.”
So what will the town look like in the next decade?
“Thriving, bustling, busy. A place where people come to, not just for the day but for a weekend or longer because there’s so much to do.
“I see busy shops , busy streets, busy restaurants, busy bars. You walk from Harveys through Westgate and everywhere is full.
“That’s what’s happening and the more it does the more other businesses and visitors will want to come because they will see we have something different. Something special.”